Digital Defenders: BlackBerry Invests in Girl Guides Cybersecurity Badge

Girl Guides are the Canadian equivalent of Girl Scouts in the United States. Both organizations are a part of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, which includes pretty much all Girl Guide and Girl Scout organizations around the world.

Being in the Girl Guides gave me a lot of the tools I now use in my career as a cybersecurity writer. I started as a Brownie when I was six. I eventually became a Girl Guide when I was nine, and I went on a lot of camping trips and worked on a number of badges. Those badges gave me an early sense of accomplishment which I still draw on to this day. And I’ll always think fondly of the Remembrance Day Poppy Drives for the Royal Canadian Legion, selling chocolate mint cookies in the fall, and chocolate and vanilla mix sandwich cookies in the spring.

But it’s been two decades since I left Guiding. The world has changed a lot since the 90s. The Internet has grown immensely, and now nearly every adult (and many children) owns a little mobile computer in their pocket, in the form of a smartphone or tablet. Cybersecurity was very important in the 90s, and even more so today. So much more of our everyday lives and business activities are conducted digitally and through the Internet. For example, Internet of Things (IoT) technology is appearing in civic infrastructure, kitchen appliances, industrial facilities, medical devices, kids’ toys, you name it.

What this means is that a great deal more is at stake when it comes to securing computer technology. Cybersecurity awareness should now be considered at least as important of a skill as tying knots, navigation, or baking, if not more so.

Girl Guides of Canada Guides of Canada (GGC) and BlackBerry recently announced the launch of cybersecurity skills based programming, Digital Defenders, for GGC’s 70,000 members. Designed to provide girls with the necessary skill set to spark early interest in the cybersecurity industry, the Girl Guide led program encourages participants to take a “how stuff works” approach to cybersecurity, giving them a robust and in depth look at the topics through play and discovery based learning.

This innovative new program will empower girls as digital citizens while giving them access to invaluable hands-on knowledge that might not be available to them otherwise. Following age‐appropriate content for each branch of GGC from Sparks (ages 5-6) to Rangers (ages 17-18), girls will learn:

  • How computers, encryption and malware work
  • How data travels
  • How authentication works to protect information
  • How pen testing and hacking work
  • How cybersecurity creates layers of protection
  • How patches and firewalls protect computers
  • How machine learning is predicting and preventing cyber attacks

“At Girl Guides, we’re focused on empowering girls with the relevant skills that will help them soar,” said Jill Zelmanovits, CEO of Girl Guides of Canada. “Girls have told us they want to know more about how they can protect themselves, their devices and their information online so they’re prepared to navigate the digital world they live in and to learn about potential careers in technology. BlackBerry is an incredibly innovative cybersecurity brand and we’re thrilled to be working with them.”

I must admit that I’m a bit envious. Had this program existed when I was a Girl Guide in the 90s, perhaps my cybersecurity career would have started earlier. But I’m very happy for the girls and young women who will learn how to use computer technology more securely, plus they will become aware of the cybersecurity field, which could lead to future careers.

Getting more into computer technology is actually an appropriate reflection of the military roots of Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell, and his sister Agnes Baden-Powell, founder of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. Many of the most important breakthroughs in computer technology were originally developed for military purposes - digital cryptography, ARPANET as the precursor to the modern Internet with its TCP/IP foundation, touchscreens, and early advances in CPU technology. And militaries these days work to protect their countries from cyberwarfare. So computers and the Internet are more authentic to the roots of Guiding than smores over a campfire! (I still love smores, though.)

BlackBerry’s Vice President of Advanced Technology Development Labs, Sarah Tatsis, saw how Girl Guides of Canada and BlackBerry are a perfect fit for each other:

“One of BlackBerry’s founding mission statements is ‘Always try to build something special. Build important things that have an impact on society.’ Above and beyond the technologies that BlackBerry has built that have changed how the world communicates, it’s through that lens that the company has always sought to be on the look-out for ways we can give back to society outside of our normal day-to-day operations and build a safer, more secure world for all.

It’s amidst that backdrop that the germ of an idea was formed to examine whether there was a way we could help train up the next generation with the critical skills they need to be responsible digital citizens, while at the same time providing them with opportunities to take a look behind the curtain of an industry that touches every aspect of our world and is only going to grow in importance.”

Sarah explains why this program is so important to young girls growing up in today’s world. “As a former Girl Guide myself, I know first-hand how simple exposure to something can spark a lifelong interest and passion and as the project lead for this initiative there was no question that Girl Guides of Canada was the right organization to approach in pursuit of this mission.

Over the past six months, myself and a handful of women from across BlackBerry have worked diligently with GGC to develop content to arm girls with the relevant skills to navigate their world today and in the future; content that is designed to educate them on the technologies of tomorrow that will be absolutely pertinent to understand, from A to Z; Artificial Intelligence to Zero-Trust environments. By empowering girls to navigate the digital world they live in and how to protect themselves from cyber threats, we’re giving girls the kind of cyber savvy skills they might not be able to get anywhere else.”

People within Guiding are also very excited about the new Digital Defenders program. Huda Nasir started with Girl Guides as a kid, and now as a young woman, she’s a leader in the 7th Waterloo Brownie Unit. She said: "I think it's amazing that girls are being introduced to this at such a young age, especially with how much we rely on technology.”

Jill Zelmanovits is the CEO of Girl Guides of Canada. She had this to say about BlackBerry’s new program:

“At Girl Guides, we’re focused on empowering girls with the relevant skills that will help them soar. Girls have told us they want to know more about how they can protect themselves, their devices and their information online so they’re prepared to navigate the digital world they live in and to learn about potential careers in technology. BlackBerry is an incredibly innovative cybersecurity brand and we’re thrilled to be working with them.”

So next time a Girl Guide or Brownie tries to sell you a box of cookies, buy one. Not only are the cookies absolutely delicious, you’re also helping to fund Girl Guides programs like Digital Defenders. And who knows.... that little girl could be a SOC Analyst one day.